Actor Jeff Miller has known about Sam Shepard's Buried Child for a long time, he says. While in school in a small town, he and fellow students interested in theater knew about it, but couldn't read it. "Our theater teacher wouldn't give us a copy of it because it had a dead baby in it."
But then he moved to high school in Houston and read the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that once again allows Shepard to explore identity, tradition and family ties.
And now the accomplished actor has decided to take this three-act play on as his first directing assignment.
He's at the helm of the upcoming Catastrophic Theatre production of the dark comedy and story of a rural Illinois family unable to get past its own devastating actions and regrets.
The model son is dead. A second son is an emotional cripple, a third a physical one. Dodge, the alcoholic father of this farmhouse family hasn't planted anything in years. And the secretive mother Halie is off and away. And then there's the dead baby. The American Dream lays in tatters around all of them.
Set in the 1970s, the play is also “at a place where time has actually stopped,” Miller says. “Outside the house is taboo land where you have multiple levels of reality, sometimes conflicting.”
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A grandson returns to the farm and no one knows him – not his father nor his grandfather. As with other Shepard plays, the theme of identity runs throughout this work, Miller says.
Miller credits his stellar cast — Rutherford Cravens as Dodge, Carolyn Houston Boone as Halie, Greg Dean as Tilden, Kyle Sturdivant as Bradley, Dayne Lathrop as Vince, Candice D'Meza as Shelly, and Charlie Scott as Father Dewis – with a successful negotiation of a landscape both real and surreal.
The original score was composed by local music legend Geoffrey Mueller, winner and nominee of multiple Houston Press music awards throughout the years. The set by Ryan McGettigan Miller says, "is a reflection of the barrenness of the landscape and their lives." Lights are by John Smetak, sound by Shawn St. John, props by Lauren Davis, and costumes by Macy Lyne.
Performances are scheduled for September 9 through October 1 at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information call 713-521-4533 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Pay what you can.